Profile: David Soane
that won’t get dirty; stealthy
cancer drugs; powdered carbonated drinks; permanent hair color that literally
brushes on. David Soane is an entrepreneur—a serial entrepreneur. He admits
as much in his airy Emeryville, CA office, surrounded by photos of his
family. “I enjoy working at a company in its early stage, when there is
a lot of excitement and spirit,” he said. Soane starts technology companies
the way some people buy new shoes. He has founded eight companies in the
past ten years and has more than 100 patents.
of Soane’s ventures are based on novel nanoscale polymer chemistry. He
started ACLARA BioSciences, which manufactures “lab on a chip” products
for biomedical use; 2C Optics, which produces polymers for eyeglass lenses;
and Nano-Tex, a pioneering company that creates fabric finishing agents.
The bane of dry-cleaners everywhere, Nano-Tex is the company written about
in the newspapers right now. It is the company behind those stain-free,
wrinkle-free, miraculous clothes showing up in numerous stores, including
Eddie Bauer and the Gap. “I haven’t had any threats from dry-cleaning
chains yet,” he laughed. And, as expected, the man’s clothes are blemish-free.
Nano-Tex products have been a huge success. The breakthrough of Nano-Tex’s
technology is that the nanopolymers are directly bonded to fibers to impart
various characteristics to the cloth. “We use technology to create, alter
and improve textiles at the molecular level, developing intelligent fabrics,”
Soane said. In addition, the company’s methods require only general factory
equipment and water, clearing the way for mass production without large
capital investment or special machines.
another Soane company, uses nanotechnology to improve cancer drug therapy.
“Our approach to fighting cancer uses hydrogels, which are simply 25-nanometer
highly hydrated sugarballs,” Soane explained. “We can then covalently
link a useful drug like doxorubicin to the carbohydrate scaffold interior
and attach multiple copies of a targeting peptide on the surface of the
sugarballs. By using a peptide that binds to tumor vasculature we can
obtain a large amount of tumor cell death and necrosis.” This “Trojan
Horse” approach yields drug-laden particles that bind specifically to
the tumor cells, sparing surrounding normal tissue.
received his Ph.D. in 1978 in chemical engineering under the mentorship
of Professor Mitchel Shen. A prolific researcher, Soane joined the faculty
in 1979 and published approximately 200 technical papers and two books
during his fifteen years as a professor.
left his regular faculty position in the department in 1994 to pursue
his entrepreneurial industrial ideas; however, he maintains an adjunct
professor appointment in chemical engineering. “I am very interested in
the affairs of the department and enjoy giving guest lectures and colloquiums.
I want to teach current students how academicians can benefit the local
economy by teaming up with industry.” He also participates in college
alumni activities, speaking last year at the CHEMillennium alumni kickoff
event and at the Stanford-MIT-UC Berkeley Nanotech Forum.
both a former graduate student and faculty member of the chemical engineering
department, Soane found that the rigorous scientific investigation that
he undertook at Berkeley provided a good foundation for his current work.
get to work on fun projects with direct market applications,” he said.
products are both fun and practical. For instance, if you like sodas,
then Soane is working on a product for you. “One of my latest companies
is DuraFizz, and we are developing powdered carbonated drinks. Instead
of taking up lots of shelf space and
Yet another company that he heads up is Cosmetica, which focuses on personal care products. “We would love to revolutionize the hair-coloring industry,” he said with a smile. The current way to change your hair color or cover gray hair is to essentially do chemical experiments on your head. Peroxide destroys the melanin in the hair shaft, and then dye precursors, comprised chiefly of aromatic compounds in an ammonia solution, are combined with hydrogen peroxide. Color is created inside the hair via oxidative coupling.
“We would like to change this process by doing the chemistry somewhere else, away from your head,” Soane said.
that bind selectively to hair can be engineered to contain color. The
particles would readily be suspended in solution, and the color could
literally be brushed onto the hair, creating immediate, water-resistant
color. The nanoparticles could then be removed at any time with Cosmetica’s
proprietary remover. “You (or your kids) would be able to have crazy green
and purple hair for Halloween and go into the office the next day with
everything back to normal, no regrets. I have a beautiful fluffy white
cat at home that might make a good spokes-animal for our product line,”
is optimistic yet cautious about the current nanotechnology hype that
pervades the media. “The nanotech revolution is still very early. I see
a gradual evolution from the microscale to the nanoscale. But I think
that continuing to develop smart materials will pay big dividends.”